Good News for the West (and the East!) this Christmas

“On the Eve of the Birth of Jesus,” an excerpt from Son of Man (1959) by Fr. Alexander Men (murdered near Moscow, Russia in 1990):

The spiritual crisis in the Roman Empire was profound. Ancient beliefs and myths began to elicit scorn in many. Religion lost its meaning, turning into one component of the system of civil responsibilities. Even Cicero said that the official cult was only necessary for maintaining order in the masses.

Some were prepared to go even further. The poet Lucretius saw in religion simply a harmful delusion. In his book, “On the Nature of Things,” he resurrected the materialism of the ancient Greek philosophers Democritus and Epicureaus. According to their doctrine, the world is nothing but an accidental organization, born of the dancing of atoms. Sooner or later destruction awaits it. Lucretius saw already the omnipresent symptoms of the world’s autumn, portending the end and fall of the world. Similar ideas were widely circulated not only in the West but also in India and China.

However, the very nature of the human spirit did not allow man to be reconciled with meaninglessness. Even having ceased to believe in anything, people did not want to recognize life as an accidental splash of matter, after which darkness would follow.

Thus, having become acquainted with the religions of the East, the Romans greedily reached for them. The true conquest of the West by foreign cults began. People from Britain to the Balkans began to pray to the Egyptian Isis, Jewish synagogues were built in Rome, as were temples to the Phrygian Divine Mother Cybele and the Persian God Mithra. Street preachers pronounced truths brought from the Ganges, from Parthia and Central Asia. Greek mysteries were reborn, which promised their participants immortality and knowledge of higher worlds. Occult teachings, astrology, magic and fortune-telling found followers in all classes of society. The pursuit of the miraculous yielded an increase in superstition and charlatanism.

Seeing this, people who were skeptically inclined were ready to give up completely hope of arriving at the purpose of life. In their opinion, there was no answer to the question, “What is truth?” In a word, the mental disorder was complete. Mystical searches and a lack of spirituality, thirst for purity and moral disintegration could be found together in one family. Not infrequently the father shut himself up in Stoic scorn for the vanity of the world, the mother went to nightly sectarian rites, and the son developed new forms of pleasure and acute experience.

Man stood at the crossroads and heard from every side beckoning voices: “Be indifferent to the sorrows and joys of life, immerse yourself in peaceful contemplation,” said the Buddhists and the Stoics; “Live in harmony with nature, like all things,” taught the Cynics and the Epicureans; “Happiness is in knowledge and reflection,” objected the natural philosophers; “Cleanse yourself with secret ordinances and you will obtain immortality,” assured the teachers of mysticism; “Remain faithful to the one God and obey His law,” announced the religion of Israel; and the Roman Eagle, looking over its prey, swooped over this spiritual maelstrom where, as in the primeval chaos, opposing beginnings were mixed together.

The hope that the one who would lead the world out of this labyrinth would appear was revived from time to time. The poet Virgil foretold the birth of a young boy from which the Age of Saturn would begin. The Buddhists waited for Maitreya Buddha, the Hindus the next incarnation of the god Vishnu, the Persians the Savior-Saoshiant, the Jews the Messiah…

In Palestine, the atmosphere of mystical aspirations thickened with each passing year. The people hoped that the prophet Elijah would shortly appear from heaven and perform the anointing of the Messenger of God. Many thought that he would be a great warrior who would smash the kingdoms of the heathen. Others believed in the final triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, immortality over death. They believed that “God will visit His people.”

Finally, when it seemed that all options had been tried and exhausted, dawn lit the dark horizon of history. In the twentieth year of the reign of Augustus, in the small settlement of Nazareth, a Galilean Maiden heard the news, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His Kingdom there will be no end.”

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